Western New York state braced for a fresh wave of heavy snow on Wednesday after a freakish storm swept off the Great Lakes and deposited five feet (1.5 meters) of powder in parts of the region, killing at least six people and stranding motorists overnight.
The fierce autumn storm paused on Wednesday morning around the city of Buffalo, but snow was expected to resume later in the day, said Deputy Erie County Executive Richard Tobe.
The next burst of snow is expected to arrive by nightfall and dump three feet (one meter) of snow, he said, adding to accumulations that are remarkable even for western New York, where giant snowfalls and frigid winter weather are the norm.
Five feet of snow is already on the ground in parts of Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo.
“That's a year's worth of snow,” Tobe said, noting a state of emergency remained in effect for the area, where driving was banned on many roads and 140 miles (225 km) of the New York State Thruway along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario were closed.
The storm was all the more unusual because it inundated some areas, with snow falling at a rate of five inches (13 cm) per hour, while sprinkling only a few inches in total just several miles away, said National Weather Service meteorologist David Thomas.
The disparity is typical of so-called lake effect, which occurs when cold air whips up snow clouds over the relatively warm Great Lakes, drawing in moisture and generating localized snowfalls onshore, Thomas said. The phenomenon can create intense squalls in one area while leaving nearby locations virtually unscathed.
In south Buffalo, snowmobiles were being used to respond to emergency medical calls and rescue stranded motorists while some 5,000 tons of snow was removed from the area, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for 10 counties, deploying National Guard troops to help residents.
At least six deaths in the area were linked to the storm, said John Greenan, a spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Department. In one case, a 46-year-old man was found in his car buried under about 15 feet (4.6 meters) of snow. One person was killed in a traffic accident and three died from heart problems. There were no details about the sixth death.
A 23-year-old man in New Hampshire died in a traffic accident also tied to the storm, state police said.